Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Ceisteanna (29)

Thomas Pringle


29. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will increase the capitation rate for children in primary education in the upcoming budget in order that parents and communities will not have to fund-raise constantly to provide an education for their children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28378/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (4 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Education)

This question is whether the Minister plans to secure an increase in the capitation rate for primary schools to ensure parents do not have to fund-raise constantly to support schools to ensure that heating and electricity bills are paid.

I recognise the need to improve capitation funding for primary and post-primary schools having regard to the reductions that were necessary over recent years. The previous budget resulted in the first increase in education spending in recent years. I am determined to continue pressing the case for increased investment in education in the forthcoming budget.

The Government has just launched the first action plan for education aimed at making the Irish education and training service the best in Europe by 2026. The plan outlines hundreds of actions to be implemented over the three-year period from 2016 to 2019.  One of the actions as part of the plan is to strengthen the focus on reducing school costs for parents. The plan also integrates with the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to increase capitation funding and to set out capitation rates to schools on a rolling three-year basis allowing for forward planning by schools.

There are limited funds available in budget 2017 to meet a wide range of needs. Discussions are ongoing on how best to deliver on our various priorities and commitments as part of our drive to deliver the best education service in Europe within these constraints. Details of the 2017 Estimates will be announced on budget day.

I am afraid I must disagree with the Minister when he says that the reductions in capitation grants were necessary over recent years. There is a hell of a long way to go in terms of the Government's so-called ambition to make the Irish education system the best in Europe, and it will need to do a lot more than hundreds of actions and tick boxes to make sure it delivers that. The reality is that the capitation grant for primary schools works out at something like 92 cent per student per day, which is not nearly enough.

There was talk earlier about pay restoration, but the Government could do a lot for families if it ensured they do not have to fund-raise for schools. Increasing the capitation rates would have the effect of giving all families a pay rise as well because they would not have to put their hard-earned money into supporting schools to pay electricity bills and heating costs. I have seen figures whereby the Government could provide completely free primary education for €103 million per year. Surely that would be a good step along the road to making our education system the best in Europe.

I do not agree with the Deputy. There are remarkable strengths in our education system. We attract some of the most talented people into teaching. Our performance in reading and mathematics is very strong, perhaps not so in science. We have one of the lowest school dropout rates and one of the highest third level participation rates in Europe, so we have a good education system. Of course, we need to do more to make sure it is better and the best in Europe.

We would like to be in a position to increase the capitation grant, which is currently €170, and the ancillary grant, which is currently €153 per pupil. However, it comes at a time when €600 million across all Departments is available in the budget for discretionary spend, which puts a constraint on our ambitions. I assure the Deputy that bearing in mind the views of other Deputies who have placed emphasis on the need for postgraduate education, counselling in our education system or investment in school buildings, I seek to balance all those calls in a fair way. Another factor is the need to restore qualification allowances for newly qualified teachers. All those elements are competing for resources in the budget and I will try to be as fair as possible in allocating them.